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The Myth of Brand Control

by Shonali Burke on September 20, 2010

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Who’s controlling whom?

Marketers often speak about controlling their brand, which by definition is out of their control.

In layman’s terms, a product’s brand is the individual and collective thoughts and feelings of said product’s customers.

The product’s brand is what people think, and how they feel, about it.

The most marketers can hope to do is influence what their customers may think of their brands.

Marketing and advertising professionals have become experts in observation, research and human behavior, allowing them to give consumers what they want, when they want it and how they want it.

On the other hand, consumers believe they have the power to get companies to create, change or discontinue products by using or withholding of the almighty dollar.

This begs the question, who controls a product’s brand? The reality is closer to marketers and consumers sharing brands.

A paradigm shift

Social media is causing paradigm shifts (and some mild heart attacks) because of brand transparency.

This phenomenon is causing fear and trepidation in the hearts of most traditional marketers and a false sense of bravado in consumers.

For marketers, consumers used to call or write letters when they had complaints. Now they can blast brands on blogs, ravage products with scathing reviews and flog your flagship endeavors on Facebook.

Brands are at the mercy of customers. Truth be told, they always have been.

The difference is that customers now have a way to express and disseminate their discontent to hundreds, thousands, even millions of others almost instantaneously.

For consumers, brands can easily share their cases of consumer abuse, exaggeration and fabrication to self-promotion and gain.

Brands and products can now go on the offensive, telling their side of the story, heading off the firestorm of consumer ire before the clouds even begin to form.

Is the customer always right?

And while the axiom of “the customer is always right” may have been the governing principle for 20th century customer service, seemingly the pendulum is swinging back to the center, where consumers and brands share responsibility for fulfilling the brand’s promise.

As marketers learn to release their brands, they gain real time engagement, communication and recognition with their customers, all of which can improve the brand as its advocates take part in its success.

Companies, C-suites, agencies and public relation firms should remember, consumers chose their products and services; they want brands to succeed.

Working together, they can.

Image: Cha già José’s Flickrstream, Creative Commons

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Shannon Mouton is the social media and mobile marketing manager for an online higher education institution. She is passionate about utilizing social media for the greater good, information sharing and networking. Shannon has nearly 20 years of community building, outreach and relationship marketing experience. She is the owner of The Mouton Group, a real estate investment firm, and a principal at Topaz Consulting, a public relations and marketing consulting enterprise. She serves on the board of directors for the In Series and a regular volunteer at Calvary Women’s Services. Her blog, Shannon Sez So, examines life, its joys, pains and idiosyncrasies. Shannon is also a contributor to Gridiron Gals, as a die-hard fan of the Washington Redskins. Contact her on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

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